Ship with 54 migrants barred from docking in Italy

Malta said Thursday that it will take the migrants in a deal with Italy to take an equal number already in Malta.
Friday 05/07/2019
Migrants rest on a Mediterranea Saving Humans NGO boat, as they sail off Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa, just outside Italian territorial waters, on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AP)
Migrants rest on a Mediterranea Saving Humans NGO boat, as they sail off Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa, just outside Italian territorial waters, on Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AP)

ROME - An Italian humanitarian group whose boat has been barred from docking in Lampedusa said the health of the 54 migrants it rescued at sea is rapidly deteriorating, prompting fears of another standoff with Italy’s populist government.

Mediterranea Saving Humans said Friday in a tweet that its sailing boat ALEX was off Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa, just outside Italian territorial waters, and that it has been banned from entering Italian jurisdiction by ministerial decree.

Given the condition of those on board, it has requested that the migrants, rescued from a rubber dinghy Thursday off Libya, be transferred to Italian or Maltese patrol boats. It said in light of the condition of the migrants that it couldn’t make the trip to the Mediterranean island of Malta itself.

Malta said Thursday that it will take the migrants in a deal with Italy to take an equal number already in Malta. The deal appears aimed at avoiding what would be the 21st standoff between Italy’s populist government and humanitarian groups rescuing migrants at sea.

In a tweet, the group said that “due to the psychophysical conditions of the people on board and the characteristics of the ship” it was not able to make the journey to Malta.

“But we could transfer the shipwrecked to Maltese or Italian patrol boats,” it added.

In a further tweet, the group’s spokeswoman Alessandra Sciurba wrote: “Unfortunately there’s no boat arriving from Malta to transfer the 54 migrants.”

The NGO said the ministerial decree is illegitimate because it can’t be applied to a ship carrying people rescued at sea, and because Italy can’t ban an Italian-flagged ship from entering its waters.

Italy has insisted that the Libyan coast guard intervene and the migrants be taken back to Libya. NGOs say that would be against maritime law since Libya is not considered a safe harbor, as evidenced by the bombing of a migrant center this week that killed dozens.

Italy argues that the presence of the ships encourages smugglers and that Italy has been unfairly stuck with the burden of managing arrivals from northern Africa for the rest of Europe.

Last Saturday, a 17-day standoff between Italy and a German rescue ship ended when the captain defied orders and forced her way to a dock in Lampedusa’s main port. She is under investigation for disobeying orders and allegedly aiding illegal immigration.

(AP)